5.10.2008

Halloween II (1981)

DIRECTED BY
Rick Rosenthal [some reshots by John Carpenter]


STARRING
Donald Pleasance - Dr. Sam Loomis
Jamie Lee Curtis - Laurie Strode
Charles Cyphers - Sheriff Leigh Brackett
Lance Guest - Jimmy Lloyd
Pamela Susan Shoop - Nurse Karen
Leo Rossi - Bud
Nancy Stephens - Marion
Dick Warlock - The Shape/Michael Myers

Genre - Horror/Slasher

Running Time - 93 Minutes

Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4


Back in 1978, an independent horror film directed and written by John Carpenter [along with Debra Hill] called HALLOWEEN became a surprise hit worldwide. Costing only $320,000 to make, the film grossed over $45 million and counting, becoming one of the most successful independent films ever made. The story of an escaped mental patient and who stalked and murdered babysitters through dark lighting, a creepy music score, and visual shots rarely seen in horror films at the time proved that film could have a lasting impact on its audience. But with success, others begin to copy and emulate in their own vision to create success of their own. In 1980, a little horror film called FRIDAY THE 13th was released. Unlike the tamer HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH displayed guts and gore in the most violent way possible, using special effects to create a barrage of violent images. The slasher sub-genre was officially born, causing movie studios to create films that could be just as gory to gross out their audience into creating huge profits. PROM NIGHT, TERROR TRAIN, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and even FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 continued the trend to varied levels of success.


Seeing how profitable these kind of films were, the investors for the original HALLOWEEN begged Carpenter to write and direct a sequel to the film many believe brought slasher chic into the forefront and mainstream. Even though Carpenter and Hill relunctantly wrote the sequel, Carpenter refused to direct, feeling he had already made the same film once before. Rick Rosenthal, a fairly inexperienced director, won the job to direct a straight continuation of the original for 1981 titled what else - HALLOWEEN II. Unfortunately like most horror sequels, the second part is never as good as the original, no matter how much added blood and gore is inserted to help continue the story. But fortunately for the blossoming franchise, HALLOWEEN II isn't a bad horror film at all.

PLOT
Continuing right after the end of HALLOWEEN in 1978, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is on the hunt for Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) after The Shape walked away after being shot six [it's really seven if you listen closely] times off of a balcony. As Loomis and Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) begin to learn the aftermath of The Shape's return back to Haddonfield, Illinois, Michael Myers hunts down for his surviving primary victim, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Speaking of Laurie, she's taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to be treated for her injuries, where she meets a kind paramedic, Jimmy Lloyd (Lance Guest), who explains to Laurie who attacked her and what's been going on since. Fearing for her life and knowing that Michael Myers isn't done with her, Laurie does her best to evade her attacker as he closes in on her [while Michael murders the hospital staff to get to her]. And once the truth is learned about the true relationship between Laurie and Michael, Dr. Loomis does his best to save Laurie and stop Michael once and for all - even if it kills him.

REVIEW
HALLOWEEN II is not as classic or as good as the original HALLOWEEN. But in my opinion, it's the best sequel in the franchise [although HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS comes close]. The film doesn't hide its sequel-itis. We get more violence. We get more blood. We get to see The Shape use a variety of weapons to murder these one-dimensional hospital staff members. The film isn't as suspenseful as the original was. And we get to see WAY too much of Michael Myers in the film. He's pretty much the main character of this film, creating a loss of mystique that The Shape had in the original. Quite honestly, you're not that scared of Michael Myers here, although he still is a bit creepy and intimidating in some ways. And the protrayal of Laurie Strode as weak and scared [while absolutely believable] makes the film lose a strong foil for Myers. And then there's the reveal about their relationship.

In the first HALLOWEEN, we never really understood why Michael Myers returned to Haddonfield and started chasing and killing people while making Laurie Strode his main target. It was implied that The Shape was just the embodiment of evil, and Laurie was just the unlucky victim of that evil force. The unknown is always scary, and that's why Michael Myers and his motives in the original was absolutely terrifying. We could speculate his reasons, but did we really know? Not at all. In HALLOWEEN II, we finally learn the reason why The Shape is after Laurie: Michael and Laurie are brother and sister.

It was nice for Carpenter and Hill to provide us with a reason for Michael's murder spree and his attention on mainly Laurie. And yes, it's still kind of scary to not know why Michael would even want to kill his sister like he had done to their older one years ago. But I honestly didn't feel that any explanation was needed for his motivation. I would have been fine not knowing why he does what he does. Maybe the guy was just a psycho who wanted to kill the person he hadn't succeeded in doing in yet. Is that too far of a stretch? Sure, the sibling connection gives the story a plausible reason, but it destroyed what made The Shape so special. Without this knowledge in the original, The Shape was just a force, a Boogeyman, that no one in Haddonfield could escape physically or mentally. Once you establish a relationship between The Shape and his main victim, The Shape isn't a force anymore. He's just a man. He's just Michael Myers, an escaped patient who knew exactly what he was after and will do anything to get what he wants. It doesn't really make him that scary anymore. As long as you're not associated with Laurie or near her when Michael is on the loose, you're safe. And the whole sibling thing really bit the producers in the ass when it came to subsequent sequels, as they just couldn't get away from the whole "Michael has to kill his family" thing. But Carpenter and Hill didn't really expect that to happen, as HALLOWEEN II was supposed to be the end of the whole Michael Myers story. Unfortunately, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH ruined that and forced Myers to come back. Oh well.

And the script by Carpenter and Hill was definitely sub-par next to the original screenplay. It was obvious that the two didn't really want to write the script, as they had no plans to create a sequel to begin with. I even read somewhere that Carpenter admitted to being drunk while writing the HALLOWEEN II screenplay. He even wanted this film to take place in a high-rise apartment building years later, where The Shape would hunt down Laurie Strode, who apparently would have lived in one of the apartments. That would have been interesting. Would that have worked? Not sure. But I'm getting side-tracked. Continuing my previous point...only the Dr. Loomis character [and somewhat Laurie Strode] had any real depth or substance, as the other characters barely had any character development. The FRIDAY THE 13TH syndrome was definitely here, as you can tell from the beginning that the hospital faculty were nothing but cannon fodder for The Shape's destruction. And boy, were they ever! You can tell this film was made for money, instead of love and appreciation for horror like the original.

I must say that Rick Rosenthal, while no John Carpenter, does a really good job with the film. It's almost Carpenter-lite, with subjective point-of-view shots from The Shape [which happens more so at the beginning of the film], dark lighting, great angle shots [high for Laurie to show how small she is emotionally - low for Michael Myers to display his power], cloudy looking shots [due to Laurie's drugged up state], and he keeps the film moving at a decent pace where you'll never get bored watching. I really liked how Rosenthal uses the very creepy and abandoned hospital to the film's advantage, creating a really creepy atmosphere for Michael to slay some victims. I know I would never visit that hospital. Their survival rate must not be too high, I gather. Rosenthal also tries to manage scenes of some development between characters, even if we still don't know much about them or even care to really, but at least the man tries to create a non-brainless horror film that is a good companion for the original. It's well known that Rosenthal wanted to make HALLOWEEN II a psychological thriller like the original, and was very displeased as how to the film came out, due to John Carpenter doing reshoots to make the film scarier with the use of gore [plus he felt like he had to compete with FRIDAY THE 13TH]. Didn't help John, but nice try. The gore and kills look really good in this film [I love the hot tub scene, the hyperdermic needle in the eye, and the scalpel to the nurse's back as he raises her up with one arm] but it doesn't make the film any scarier. Just makes the film look more interesting that's all. So you can tell the direction was a bit disjointed, but it still works for me. I think this film captures the feel of the original more than any of the others, and that was mainly due to Rosenthal's direction. He would return to direct [pretty good actually] the much inferior HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION, which I will review in a few days.

The acting was good for a horror sequel, even though most of the characters weren't really defined enough for us to care about them. Donald Pleasance returns as Dr. Loomis and is by far the best actor in this film. You can tell Pleasance is enjoying himself here, as Loomis is now more obsessed with finding Michael Myers more so than in the original. He also has the best dialogue, rehashing what happened in the original but his memorable monologue about Samhain and how that related to Michael Myers' rampage. If it were any other actor, I would have found his dialogue ridiculous and silly. But Pleasance really believes in his character, so we believe exactly what he has to say and do. I think this is his best performance of the 5 appearances he made in the franchise. Pleasance is the heart and soul of the film.

Jamie Lee Curtis is okay as the tired and traumatized Laurie Strode. She doesn't really do much here but whine, sleep, and limp away from Michael Myers. But at least she does it well! Her final confrontation with Michael is really, really well done though. Very tense and it reminds us of the original and why we want Laurie to survive her brother's wrath. But you know she's better than she's allowed to do here, as she's extremely underused here. And that wig wasn't fooling anyone either. At least she would return in HALLOWEEN H20 and remind us why we rooted for her in the first place.

Dick Warlock as The Shape/Michael Myers was good, but not as great as the original Nick Castle. While he was intimidating and a badass, especially at the end of the film, Warlock's performance was a bit robotic to me in the way he walked and held that scalpel. I mean, he was really walking slow. And I do mean sssssllllooooowwww. But the dude had a great look and murdered people really well enough that I wouldn't want to confront him any time soon. Plus that mask looked really worn out, but I liked that look alot. The Shape looked like hell and he was gonna give these people some too.

The rest of the actors were okay. Lance Guest was okay as Jimmy, even though I noticed his afro more than his thespian skills. He and Laurie made a cute looking couple though. Leo Rossi as Bud cracked me up with his "Amazing Grace" parody in the lounge. I didn't need to see his ass though, but that's just me. And Pamela Susan Shoop was quite hot as Nurse Karen. Man, her two displays of talent in that hot tub really got my attention. Whooo! Thanks for the free show, Pam. God, I love being a man!

And I can't continue without mentioning the music. Yes, it's the same stuff from the original, but instead of a piano, it's now done with a synthesizer. Not as scary as the piano version, but Alan Howarth does a very respectable job with the score. It was more gothic and somewhat creepy to listen to, especially during the opening credits with the opening pumpkin displaying a skull underneath. LOVE THAT! And the use of the Cordettes' "Mr. Sandman" was an interesting touch. Everytime I hear that song, it reminds me of this film.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE NOT PAUSING MY DVD AS I STARED AT PAMELA SUSAN SHOOP'S BOOBS

1) When Dr. Loomis told that neighbor that he doesn't know what death is, I know exactly what he means. Has that guy ever seen BATTLEFIELD EARTH? Man, I was ready to kill myself after that abomination!

2) If your name is Alice and you're a character in a horror film, you're not gonna have an easy time surviving. See also: ALICE, SWEET ALICE, FRIDAY THE 13TH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. 4: THE DREAM MASTER & 5: THE DREAM CHILD, and any of the RESIDENT EVIL films.

3) Razor blades in apples are so messy and passe. Try Clorox. Not only will it poison the body, but your teeth will be the whitest they've been in years.

4) It's okay for a doctor to treat a patient even if they're drunk. I smell Lindsay Lohan's next career move...

5) Dana Carvey is in a film with Michael Myers. Wayne's World! Party Time! Excellent!

6) The Shape is a really slow walker. Someone give the man vitamins. Or a Red Bull.

7) So many babies in an empty hospital, where are their mothers? They must have went to the Britney Spears School of Parenting.

8) The Shape bashed that fat dude's head with a hammer. Man, "U Can't Touch This"!

9) The candy striper got stabbed in the ocular region with a syringe. That takes getting shot in the eye to a whole new level.

10) "We're all afraid of the dark inside ourselves." That's true. Ask Michael Jackson. He'll tell you.

THE FINAL HOWL

HALLOWEEN II is a good horror film that's worthy of multiple watches, especially if you watch it right after the much better original. While not as scary or suspenseful as the original, it still provides moments where you might feel a chill up and down your spine. The direction and gore is also well-done, and the mood is a bit darker than the original in a good way. And while the script is somewhat of a disappointment, it's a whole lot better and smarter than many of the other slasher films that came out around the same time [which was proven when HALLOWEEN II was the highest grossing horror film of 1981]. It's not perfect but it's extremely watchable. If you love the original, you'll probably like this one as well.




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